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Balls signed by 1950s Major League stars among 400 pieces up for auction

Written by Vicky Taylor, Public Opinion Online | Aug 1, 2015 9:00 AM
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Photo by Markell DeLoatch - Public Opinion

Baseball player cards will be auctioned at Gateway Auction's huge sports memorbilia auction.

(Chambersburg) -- Autographed baseballs collected by baseball great Nellie Fox in the 1950s for a Henninger Park groundskeeper will be among almost 400 pieces of sports memorabilia to be auctioned off next month at Gateway Gallery.

Only one of the 16 balls signed by members of the major league teams in existence at that time is not part of the collection, according to Gateway's marketing director, Lee Brouwer.

According to the Cook family legend, Hall of Famer Fox, a St. Thomas native, collected signatures from all 16 major league teams of that era for his friend John Leroy Cook. The balls were presented to Cook by Sam Sanderson during a birthday bash Aug. 5, 1952 hosted by the town fathers at Henninger Field.

Except for one, the balls have been in the Cook family for over six decades, passed down from John Cook to his son George and then his grandson Karl, according to Karl's wife Denise.

Denise Cook said Karl's father, George, sold one of the balls many years ago, but kept the other 15 intact and passed them on to Karl. She said she is simply fulfilling her late husband's wish in putting the collection up for auction now.

"Karl talked about selling (the collection) to help fund his retirement but never got around to it," she said.

Although Denise did not know her husband's grandfather, Karl often talked about John and his love for him, as well as the story of how the Henninger Field groundskeeper came to be in possession of the autographed baseball collection.

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Photo by Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion Online

A baseball featuring signatures from Nellie Fox and other Chicago White Sox players will be auctioned at Gateway Auction's huge sports memorabilia auction.

As groundskeeper at the local ball field, Cook was on hand for almost all the Little League games played at the field for many years, as well as high school, adult league and occasional exhibition games.

"(John) was a very kind person who loved children and was loved by his community in return," she said. "He and Nellie were very good friends."

By the time Fox became a well-known professional ball player, John Cook was an established fixture at the local ball field. When not playing for the Chicago White Sox during his career, he would come home to Franklin County and often spent time at Henninger Field in Chambersburg.

He was not at the ceremony in 1952 when his friend John was presented with the autographed baseball collection, however. He missed the event, which included a parade in Cook's honor and a ceremony at Henninger attended by about a thousand local residents in which the balls were presented to Cook on a tray, Denise Cook said.

Each of the balls carries signatures of all of the members of the team for that year, many of whom were eventually included in the baseball Hall of Fame.

Although there is no specific references in news coverage of the event about Nellie Fox collecting the set of autographed baseballs for his friend, Denise Cook said the story of Fox's part in obtaining signatures for the gift was passed down in the family by John to George and finally to Karl.

As for the sale of the collection, the balls are listed individually for sale on the auction house literature and website, but Denise hopes that someone will be interested enough in them to buy all 15, keeping the set intact.

Regardless of the outcome of the auction, she hopes whoever buys them -- either individually or as a collection -- will treasure them as much as the John Cook did when he received the gift.

The Cook collection is but a small part of Gateway's sports memorabilia auction, set for 10 a.m. Saturday Aug. 15 at Gateway Gallery on Kriner Road.

In fact, a number of other items will probably draw more attention and bring in a greater price than the Cook baseballs.

The auction will include a baseball signed by Babe Ruth personalized with "To my pal Jimmy McCaskey." McCaskey was a sports announcer during Ruth's heyday. It will also feature an autographed jersey signed by Derek Jeter when he played baseball at Kalamazoo Central High School.

A large number of baseball cards will be part of the auction, including quite a few cards from the first major TOPPS set in 1952, according to Brouwer.

Also to be auctioned is a 1954 Ted Williams card from a set by Bowman Company that the company recalled when they realized they didn't have a contract with Williams to include the card in the set, and a rare 1952 Willie Mays card. Both of those cards are graded, making them more attractive to collectors.

A number of rookie cards for players like Ted Williams and Willie Mays are also included in the auction.

But expensive cards of more famous players aren't the only things in the auction.

Brouwer said the auction will have a little something for everyone, from those looking for expensive collectors items to those who can't spend as much but are looking for something related to their favorite player or sports figure.

She said the auction house doesn't speculate about how much a specific auction will bring in, but she feels the strong interest in collections like this will mean strong bidding.

In addition to in-person bidding, Gateway will also take Internet bids during the three-hour auction. Potential bidders, from those who plan to attend the auction in person to those who will bid online, can go to http://www.GatewayAuction.com to look at detailed photos of 361 listings for the event and obtain information about the auction.

Vicky Taylor can be reached at 717-262-4754.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

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